Monday, 29 August 2011

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

Year: 2011
Director: Jon Favreau
Screenplay:  Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell

Synopsis is here

When I first posted the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens on my facebook wall, my favourite reaction was from a good friend of mine who was perplexed by the sheer fact that the film had even been greenlighted. I must admit that I chucked at his outcry. As a film fan it's no real surprise to me that things like Cowboys & Aliens get made. One only needs such to search the the imdb for such cinematic delights such as I Know who Killed Me, Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever or Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. They may considered badly executed ideas by many and there's a good chance that people considered them a bad idea beforehand too. The thing is if producers and/or executives think there's an audience out there for the idea, then they'll push for it. Often the wackiest ideas may work with a good mesh of crew, cast and vision. Often however we get crap like American Pyshco 2: All American Girl. The thing is, you cannot be sure until it's made.

Which brings us to Cowboys and Aliens, a film based on a comic book of the same name. Such a comic book sounds quite niche to a guy like me, however as so other film coming out appears to be connected to a comic book somehow, you can see where the exec suits were going with things. Add to the fact that you've got the western genre; a classic american genre and aliens (who seem to be cropping up everywhere at the moment) and I'm sure that the studio heads felt they had something special up their sleeves. The film hasn't set the box office alight as much as I feel the film makers would have liked, but it hasn't been a total failure. With this said however, after reading Mark Kermode's embittered article about modern movies I have started to ask myself when was the last time you felt a film really, truly flop?

So I guess I have to start talking about the film itself then don't I? And I'll start by stating the obvious, in that the film doesn't skimp on it's promise of Cowboys and Aliens. They all present and accounted for, hell there's even some Native Indians thrown in for good measure, the trouble is all these guys are piled together in a narrative that doesn't have the legs to make things work and are given set pieces that while pretty enough, seem to lack that punch and crunch that would make them stand out. The film is relatively fun at points but so unremarkable that I had to bore you with those over-long paragraphs above this one while I try and remember what happened in the film.

A lot of my issues with the film lie with the plot itself, in that I had no problem with the western aspect and would love more of it (seriously the idea of Ford and Craig in a straight western would have me drooling) but the sci-fi element feels clunky and shoehorned. Characters and information drop in and out at convenient moments and none of it feels organic. At one point a reveal is given that feels so frustratingly wedged in it's beyond annoying, particularly as a character has waited for such a ridiculous amount of time before mentioning the matter. Silly things happen in movies like this all the time (Think Independence Day = Apple Mac Virus) however if the momentums carries you and the action hits the sweet spots then we often don't realise. I know for a fact I don't. Despite what my reviews read, I don't consciously go looking for flaws. But if they're willing jump at you then clearly the film isn't doing it's job. The problem is that Cowboys and Aliens is only sometimes effective. Jon Favreau is not doing his best work here and it shows. It says a lot when I'm watching the competent yet vanilla set pieces of the film and thinking to myself how much more fun Rango* was than this.

The idea that the humans within the movie are severely underwhelmed  in terms of fire-power (save one element), never really comes into play. In fact it never feels like these characters are in any particular danger or worry. They have a goal and it all feels quite achievable. But then again considering the amount of cliché lines the film manages to turf out, I shouldn't be surprised at the lack of...well surprise.

So we thank the stars for the stars, in that Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are damn good at what they do, delivering presence. Both have the right amount of gravel in their faces to be believable cinematic cowboys. Ford's tetchy, guff and 12a rated racist Dolarhyde hits the mark consistently. Craig's stoic man with no name character mixes the characters volatile past with the quiet and intense and brooding nature that works. The less said about Olivia Wilde however, the better. An attractive actress, Wilde hasn't made a mark on me acting wise in any real way. In earlier films, this can be argued that they were just smaller roles. Now in films like Tron: Legacy and this she seems to be picking characters that are just boring in general and do nothing to stretch the talents she may hold. I really don't blame her, as some of the material in the larger films will get you noticed but unfortunately for some (especially for a few unfortunate Hollywood females) they may not doing anything for their craft.

But then again speaking of material, we're dealing with a film that has been handled by five different screenwriters. When the ratio gets that high, many often get weary. You can see why, with so many cooks looking to add elements to the broth, it's probably best just to play things safe.

*I watched Rango earlier this year but didn't blog it as I don't really review "kids" films. The thing is, Rango actually has more going on than a few of the blockbusters this year. I should have reviewed it.